Just recently, you made the decision to start exercising and lead a healthier life. It was a struggle for the first few days, but you’ve been walking/jogging regularly, and you’ve felt stronger lately. As you began your usual run a few days ago, you noticed a dull, achy pain at the front of your lower legs around your shins. It wasn’t too bad and you fought through it, finishing at a good pace. With life being as hectic as it is, you figured it was just normal aches and pains from the new routine and forgot about it. But on your jog yesterday, the pain was back again, this time a bit worse. Today you can even feel tightness and soreness around your shins while just walking around the house.
What’s happening here?
You likely have what is commonly referred to as “shin splints,” or pain over the front of the tibia (the large, long bone that runs from your knee to your ankle). Rather than one specific diagnosis, shin splints simply refer to pain in the shin area, which can be caused by a few different things. Most often, shin splints are the result of something called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). All that this means is that you have irritation of the tendons in your lower leg, especially where they attach your muscles to your bones.
So, what causes MTSS?
MTSS occurs as the result of overuse or increased stress placed on muscles that aren’t conditioned enough yet or aren’t used to putting up with the repeated pounding that occurs when exercising on hard surfaces like roads or basketball courts, etc. People (even athletes) that rapidly increase how often or how hard they are exercising are especially prone to developing MTSS. High-impact activities such as walking, dancing, running, or playing basketball can all place a lot of stress on your legs, and if you increase your activity level or frequency too fast, this is what can happen.
Research also suggests that the following things may make you more likely to develop MTSS:
– overpronating/having ”flat feet” (where your foot flattens out too much as you step on the ground, resulting in your foot leaning too far inward toward your other foot),
– wearing inappropriate footwear,
– exercising on hard surfaces,
– being a woman,
– being dehydrated,
– or wearing high heels.
Although MTSS is by far the most common cause of “shin splints,” pain in this area of the leg could also be caused by more serious conditions like stress fractures or exercise-induced compartment syndrome. If the pain in your shins becomes much more sharp or intense; if you notice any new or worsening numbness, tingling, significant warmth, or swelling; or if it feels extremely tight in the muscles over your shin, you should seek medical help in order to make sure that you don’t have one of these conditions, which could require more urgent medical treatment.